Poems Poems

Poems: Body Parts

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7218.1207a (Published 30 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1207


  • When I move my arm, I'm reminded

  • by a scything pain

  • that death the reaper is not just

  • an illustrative Mediaeval woodcut.

  • Behind my back, my doctor stoops

  • to confide in my tendons.

  • ‘Aha, scapula,’ he says

  • as if to soothe it with the sound

  • of its Latin name.

  • To me, off-hand, he enquires:

  • ‘Does it hurt when you shrug?’

  • My answer's a shrug, and it does.

  • He chuckles diagnostically

  • shakes his head and consoles:

  • ‘Poor large, flat, triangular bone.’

  • He admonishes me: ‘You're a writer, eh?

  • An unhealthy profession.

  • All those drinks with publishers, agents

  • of death. No doubt you smoke

  • while you write and while you don't

  • while you wait for your great inspiration.

  • Don't talk to me about Balzac.

  • All those cups of strong black coffee

  • all that burning the midnight oil—

  • I know what you chaps get up to.

  • Contemplating the eternal verities

  • is very bad news for the scapula.

  • Give up literature, my friend—

  • your shoulder blade will thank you for it.'


  • In the night my wanton ear

  • grows invisible tendrils of hearing

  • No doubt if it were a hand it

  • would reach out for something:

  • the footfall of a lover returning;

  • a sigh without resignation;

  • the whispered insinuation

  • of your dress on your skin.

  • My adulterous ear, it savours

  • their textures and their tints

  • until, grown corrupt with longing

  • it steals away from me in sleep.

  • It lets itself out of the house

  • listens down along the street

  • receives the whisper of a mist.

  • My ear in its yearning reaches out

  • for the distant shout of a star

  • as it burns and burns with desire

  • for the white noise of the universe

  • breathing in another's ear.

Taken from Body Parts by Brian McCabe. Cannongate Books,£7.99, ISBN 0 86241 877 1

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